In Pennsylvania, it is illegal for an adult (someone 18 or older) to have sex with a minor (someone younger than 16), even if the sex is consensual. Those who break the law have committed statutory rape.
Statutory rape laws are premised on the assumption that minors are incapable of giving informed consent to sexual activities. Their incapacity is written into the statute—hence the term, “statutory” rape. The age of consent can vary among states, and some states differentiate between consensual sex between minors who are close in age (for example, two teenagers of the same age), as opposed to sex between a minor and a much older adult.
Though statutory rape does not require that the prosecutor prove an assault, it is still rape. Of course, rape that does involve force or an assault is illegal in Pennsylvania and prosecuted as forcible rape (see Pennsylvania Sexual Battery Laws). Assaults of a sexual nature may also be charged under the state’s assault and battery laws (to learn more, see Aggravated Assault Laws in Pennsylvania) and child enticement and abuse laws (Child Enticement Laws in Pennsylvania).
Statutory Rape and Penalties
Statutory rape is prosecuted under Pennsylvania’s rape, sexual assault, and related laws. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim, and the conduct that occurred, as described below.
Rape includes a sexual intercourse (including genital or anal penetration, however slight) with a minor who is younger than 13 years old. This offense is a first degree felony. Penalties include a fine of up to $25,000, up to 20 years in prison, or both.
Statutory sexual assault includes sexual intercourse with a child who 13, 14, or 15, when the defendant is at least four years older than the victim. This offense is a second degree felony. Penalties include a fine of up to $25,000, up to ten years in prison, or both.
Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse includes genital or anal penetration with an object between a minor who is younger than 13 and a defendant of any age. It also includes minors who are 13, 14, or 15 when the defendant is at least four years older than the victim. This offense is a first degree felony. Penalties include a fine of up to $25,000, up to 20 years in prison, or both.
Aggravated indecent assault includes genital or anal penetration (however slight) with a body part, between a minor who is younger than 13 and a defendant of any age. It also includes minors who are 13, 14, or 15 when the defendant is at least four years older than the victim. This offense is a second degree felony. Penalties include a fine of up to $25,000, up to ten years in prison, or both.
Indecent assault includes any sexual or intimate touching for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire. If the minor is younger than 13, this offense is a first degree misdemeanor; which incurs a fine of at least $1,500 (and up to $5,000), up to five years in prison, or both. If the minor is at least 13, it is a second degree misdemeanor, which incurs a fine of at least $500 (and up to $5,000), up to two years in prison, or both.
(18 Pa. Con. Stat. § 3121, 3122.1, 3123, 3125, & 3126.)
Sex Offender Registration
State law requires—in addition to the applicable fines and prison time— that people convicted of certain instances of statutory rape must register as sex offenders.
Defenses to a Statutory Rape Charge
Defendants charged with statutory rape have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as “Someone else committed this crime, ” or “The alleged conduct did not occur.”
Statutory rape marital exception
Pennsylvania has a marital exemption for statutory rape that allows consensual sex between a married minor and that minor’s spouse, even though their ages would prohibit it if they were not married.
Minors are legally incapable of giving consent to having sex; so for example, if Jen, a 15 year old willingly has sex with Tony, her 23 year old boyfriend, Tony can be charged with rape, since Jen is not legally capable of giving consent in the first place.
But if Jen and Tony are married and living in Pennsylvania, Tony need not fear criminal charges for having consensual sex with Jen. This is because Pennsylvania has a marital exemption to the state’s statutory rape laws.
However, if Tony were to rape Jen (force her to have sex against her will), he would have no protection under the law even if the two are married. For more information about rape between spouses, see Pennsylvania Marital Rape Laws.
“Romeo and Juliet” exception
Named after Shakespeare’s young lovers, “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions are intended to prevent serious criminal charges against teenagers who engage in consensual sex with others close to their own age.
In Pennsylvania, there is a Romeo and Juliet exemption for consensual sexual acts between a minor who is 13 or older and a defendant who is less than four years older.
Mistake of age
Defendants accused of statutory rape often claim that they had no reason to know that their partner was underage. They may argue that the victim herself represented that she was older than she was, and that a reasonable person would have believed her. But as in most states, in Pennsylvania, even a reasonable mistake of age is not a defense to statutory rape.
See a Lawyer
If you are facing a statutory rape charge, consider consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area. A lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to your case.
A lawyer can often negotiate with the prosecutor for a lesser charge or a reduction in penalties (such as, for example, probation instead of prison time), and will know how prosecutors and judges typically handle cases like yours.
Help for Sexual Assault and Rape Survivors
If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.